Gandhi, Advocacy Journalism, and the Media

by David W. Bulla (Volume editor)
©2022 Monographs XII, 276 Pages


This book documents the journalistic career of Mohandas K. Gandhi. Known as the Mahatma and the Father of India, Gandhi was also a journalist. However, he was a not a journalist in the same vein as those working for the New York Times or the BBC. Rather, Gandhi was what is called an advocacy journalist; that is, his journalism served various political, social, and cultural causes—most importantly, in the long run, the Indian independence movement. Among the other key causes were equality, human rights, Muslim-Hindu relations, vegetarianism, chastity, poverty, and hygiene. The chapters in this book were written by authors who attended a conference on Gandhi and media at the University of St. Andrews on the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birthday, in October 2019. It relies on careful analysis of his newspapers, produced in both South Africa and India, including Indian Opinion, Young India, the Gujarati newspaper Navajivan, and three versions of Harijan, which were in English, Gujarati, and Hindi. The authors also place Gandhi’s version of journalism in a historical context of small, family-operated weekly newspapers that were commonplace in the nineteenth century. Finally, the book looks at other media tools Gandhi used to transmit his messages to the public, including his recorded voice for gramophone.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword by Rajmohan Gandhi
  • Introduction (David W. Bulla)
  • Section I: Causes
  • 1. Origins of Gandhi’s Advocacy Journalism (David W. Bulla)
  • 2. Gandhi Versus Gandhi: A Comparative Study of His English and Vernacular Newspapers (Parmeet Kajal)
  • 3. Closing the Circle: Gandhi in Bihar, 1947 (Anjana Sharma)
  • 4. Gandhi, Swaraj, and Press Freedom (David W. Bulla)
  • 5. A Sanitarian in a World of Modern Medicine: Gandhi’s Health Bulletins in Indian Opinion, 1903–1914 (Sanjiv Kakar)
  • Section II: Religion
  • 6. Mahatma, Bapu, Naked Fakir: Gandhi through the Lens of the Muslim Press before and after Independence, 1920–1960 (Farwa Imam Ali)
  • 7. Satyagraha Journalism—New York Style: Gandhi’s Influence on Dorothy Day and The Catholic Worker (Norma Fay Green)
  • 8. Gandhi and “The Jews”: An Article that Changed the Mahatma’s Image for the Jews (Satrajit Ghosh Chowdhury)
  • 9. Gandhi’s Prayer Meetings and Partition (Gopa Sabharwal)
  • Section III: Image
  • 10. Gandhi, Gramophone, and God: Story of an Uncomfortable Union (Dipannita Dutta)
  • 11. Gandhi’s Mediated Image: Portrayed as Saint, Bigot, Pervert, a Flawed Human, Victim of British Conspiracy, and Ultimately a Man of His Own Time (James Buie)
  • 12. Visual Advocacy, the Gandhi Icon, and the Shaping of Contemporary India (Christel R. Devadawson)
  • Bibliography
  • Contributors
  • Index
  • Series Index

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In that famous 1922 trial in Ahmedabad, where Mohandas K. Gandhi told the imperial judge that he was proud to be a seditionist, he also described himself, with selective honesty, as a weaver and a farmer. However, the profession he practiced for most of his adult life was journalism.

Writing in periodicals, and editing them, is what Gandhi did continuously from 1903, when Indian Opinion first appeared in Natal, until his assassination in New Delhi in 1948. British imperialism being as peculiar as Gandhi, for a short spell he was even allowed to edit his weekly newspaper Harijan from Yeravada Jail.

When journalists interviewed him, Gandhi took care to clarify or advance his political aims, but with some he also became a teacher. Sailen Chatterjee (1923–2001), who worked for the news agency UPI (United Press of India), recalled to me in the 1990s his first Gandhi interview, which took place in 1945 in the hill town of Panchgani. Asking to see Chatterjee’s story before it was filed, Gandhi evidently shortened and improved it, and offered Chatterjee tips for future stories.

It was in London in the year 1888 that 19-year-old Gandhi, law student from an Indian backwater, began his dialogue with the media. Spending an hour every day reading the conservative Daily Telegraph, the liberal Daily News, and the impudent Pall Mall Gazette, he nurtured the future political leader inside of him while also learning new words and the art of writing.

By the time Indian Opinion was launched in Durban in June 1903, Gandhi also knew why he was writing, which was to remedy an unpleasant world where, in his words, people “felt themselves honored by the humiliation of their fellow-beings.”1 Because notions of “high” and “low” were entertained not merely by the white race dominating South Africa but also within ←ix | x→its community of immigrants from India, Gandhi’s journal was brought out in Gujarati, Tamil, and Hindi as well as in English.

The journal’s opening issue claimed it would highlight the “undeserved and unjust” disabilities under which South Africa’s Indians labored and would also “unhesitatingly point out” Indian faults.2 In addition, it would enable South Africa’s victimized and depressed Indian community to “think audibly” through letters and comments.3

Gandhi wrote of having realized “in the very first month” of Indian Opinion that while control on a newspaper from without was “more poisonous than want of control,” an “uncontrolled pen” could also destroy.4

Asserting that while Indian Opinion had endeavored “never to depart from the strictest facts in dealing with the difficult questions that have arisen” and to write nothing “with a view to hurt,” its writers “believed in the righteousness of the cause” they espoused and would “always place before readers” facts “in their nakedness.”5

These norms were retained for the multi-language journals Gandhi ran in India after his return from South Africa in 1915: Young India, Navajivan, and Harijan. The journals were weapons for his goals of India’s independence, Hindu-Muslim partnership, and the abolition of untouchability, and platforms for explaining his strategy of nonviolence. Here’s what he wrote in Young India in July 1925:

I may not write in anger or malice. I may not write idly. I may not write merely to excite passion… Often my vanity dictates a smart expression or my anger a harsh adjective. It is… a fine exercise to remove these weeds. The reader sees the pages of Young India fairly well dressed-up and is inclined to say, “What a fine old man this must be!” Well, let the world understand that the fineness is carefully and prayerfully cultivated.6

His comment almost a century ago (in 1927) on Katherine Mayo’s Mother India, a book which for decades influenced Americans’ thinking about India, is instructive even today for nationalists anywhere. Exposing India’s insanitation and other widespread defects, Mayo’s book praised the role of the country’s British rulers. Conceding that the volume was “cleverly and powerfully written,” Gandhi called it the report of an “inspector of open drains and their stench.” He added:

Whilst I consider the book to be unfit to be placed before Americans and Englishmen (for it can do no good to them), it is a book that every Indian can read with some degree of profit. We may… not repudiate the substance underlying the many allegations she has made. It is a good thing to see ourselves as others see us. We need not even examine the motive with which the book is written (Young India, September 15, 1927).7←x | xi→

It is also worth recalling that Gandhi’s first nationwide movement against British rule, launched in 1919, was over the Rowlatt Act’s curbs on free speech.

Much later, when India was about to become free and Gandhi’s close associates were running an interim national government, he again insisted on press freedom. In a letter to Jawaharlal Nehru, who headed (under a British viceroy) the transitional authority, Gandhi spoke of the inter-religious violence that had broken out in Punjab and the censorship imposed on reports from that province.

March 20, 1947: I would like you ... to tell me what you can about the Punjab tragedy. I know nothing about it save what is allowed to appear in the Press … Nor am I in sympathy with what may be termed by the old expression of “hush hush policy.” It is amazing how the country is adopting almost the very measures which it criticized during the British administration.8

Since the urge to control or coerce was not confined to governments, and India’s citizens too were tempted to bully fellow citizens, Gandhi spoke up for an individual’s right to resist pressure. In February 1946, when over-enthusiastic patriots insisted that people they met on the street shout Jai Hind! (Victory to India), Gandhi promptly objected:

Inasmuch as a single person is compelled to shout Jai Hind, or any popular slogan (he said), a nail is driven into the coffin of Swaraj.9

Journalist Gandhi, as also Gandhi the individual and Gandhi the leader, lived for the freedom to think, believe, and express. Seventy-four years after his death, independent India witnesses powerful and sometimes successful attempts to deny those freedoms. Influential voices insist that these freedoms are for select Indians, not for all. It’s a global trend, this assertion that a nation belongs not to all in it but to its dominant section. This troubling reality brings extra relevance to Gandhi, Advocacy Journalism, and the Media. I welcome its publication.

—Rajmohan Gandhi,

Urbana, Illinois


←xi | xii→

←xii | 1→


David W. Bulla

The origin of this book about Mohandas K. Gandhi’s journalism career came in 2002 when my wife Kalpana Ramgopal and I had an arya samaj wedding in Chennai, India, her hometown. While we were in India, we took a trip to the Mumbai suburb of Thane to visit my wife’s grandmother. My wife’s uncle, N. R. Subramaniam, agreed to drive us from Thane to Mani Bhavan Gandhi, a house in Gamdevi where Gandhi would stay on his trips to Mumbai (then Bombay). While we were at Mani Bhavan, I discovered in the small library that Gandhi had run several newspapers during his lifetime. I thought this was something I—and probably most other journalism historians in North America—should have known; that is, that Gandhi, in addition to being the architect of independence and a practitioner of nonviolent resistance, had been a journalist. From that point forward, I began to gather what information I could about Gandhi’s career as an editor and writer.

Several years later, while I was teaching at Iowa State University, I had the good fortune to be on a committee that ran the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication’s annual First Amendment Day. In one of those celebrations of Americans’ most basic civil rights, we invited Mary Beth and John Tinker to speak to our students. The Tinkers had used Gandhian tactics to protest the war in Vietnam in 1965, wearing black armbands to school and earning a suspension. They sued the Des Moines, Iowa, school district and went on to victory four years later in the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that civil rights are not suddenly suspended at the schoolhouse gate.

Then, in August 2011, our family moved to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Suddenly, I found myself living in a nation where the largest single group was South Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, and Bangladeshis), and I was only a three-hour flight from Mumbai or New Delhi. The idea of researching Gandhi as a journalist began to accelerate. ←1 | 2→I swooped up anything I could find about Gandhi’s experiences as an editor and began to make trips to India and Great Britain to further my research.

However, as important as those excursions were, two other trips proved to galvanize the book idea: First, my family and I went to Turkey in 2013 during the student protests against the government there that were centered at, though not confined to, Taksim Square in Istanbul, and I saw firsthand nonviolent passive “stand-in” dissent that would have made Gandhi proud; and, secondly, my son Viraj and I made a trip to South Africa in June and July of 2014, and we were able to visit Indian Opinion’s rebuilt printing plant at Phoenix and interview his granddaughter Ela Gandhi in her apartment in downtown Durban. I want to thank Dilara Uçar for being our tour guide in Izmir and showing us the students standing silently in the middle of a major city street each night to protest the heavy hand of the Turkish national government. I had met Dilara when she was an exchange student at Davenport Central High School in Iowa when I was a journalism professor at Iowa State University. She had won an essay contest connected with ISU’s annual First Amendment Day, and I knew she never took freedom of expression for granted. Those students Dilara showed us on the streets of Izmir demonstrated courage that remains the most impressive thing I have ever witnessed. Maybe they were not aware of Gandhi and satyagraha, the name he gave to nonviolent direct political action, but indirectly he had influenced them. I also want to thank M.J. Odendaal for introducing me to Mrs. Gandhi and setting up that July 2014 interview in Durban. Mr. Odendaal is a highly acclaimed thoroughbred racer (now a trainer) in South Africa, and somehow he understood better than most what Gandhi was up to during his 21 years in M.J.’s country more than a century ago. Both men flew high in their own ways. My son and I also visited Constitution Hill in Johannesburg. There we saw the prison where Gandhi was incarcerated during the satyagraha campaigns in South Africa. We also spent a night in a home where Gandhi lived with Hermann Kallenbach. It is called Satyagraha House in the Orchards neighborhood. A few years later, Viraj and I visited the Gandhi Smriti (Birla House) in New Delhi. This is where Gandhi spent the last days of his life, and we walked his final steps from his bedroom at Birla House to the place in the raised backyard where he would say his daily public prayers. On that spot, a deranged Hindu nationalist newspaper editor would assassinate Gandhi at 5:17 p.m. Indian Standard Time on January 30, 1948. Mrs. Gandhi, the granddaughter, refers to this as the moment when her grandfather became a martyr.

Gandhi’s great gift to the world, satyagraha, remains alive and well as can be seen in recent developments as this book was written. In India, ←2 | 3→the nation’s farmers descended on New Delhi to protest against the ruling regime’s agricultural policies. Even in Georgia, the home of this volume’s editor, members of the state legislature assembled in a sit-in at the state house in Atlanta. In that same city, one can visit the Peace Center enshrining the nonviolent direct political action of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and find a room devoted to Gandhi.

Every time a new communication invention is introduced to the world or another protest movement begins, one wonders what Gandhi would think of these. Would he have adopted social media? Would he have used Facebook or Twitter to spread his messages? Would he have supported the mass protests in Hong Kong and criticized the Chinese government for its contraction of civil rights there? Would he have condemned the Myanmar coup and the crackdown on the protests against the coup? How would he have responded to the criticisms of his Dalits policy and charges from Ghana of his racism? How would he deal with an India that has turned its back on his anti-modernist prescription for that nation?

It’s that idealism—along with satyagraha—that stands as his greatest gift to posterity. I believe the book that follows narrates and explains that spirit of idealism and activism that Gandhi gave to the world—and which was communicated in large part through his various journalistic endeavors, especially his newspapers. Seeing the Gandhi facility at Phoenix and listening to Ela Gandhi talking about the Indian Opinion operation validated what I thought I was seeing in the research, most of which has come from reading through his newspapers and reading the words he wrote in books, pamphlets, and in his letters.

To that end, I want to thank the staffs at various libraries and museums around the world, including the National Gandhi Museum in Delhi; Gandhi Smriti in New Delhi; Gandhi Bhavan in Bengaluru; Gandhi Mandapan in Chennai; Mani Bhavan Gandhi in Mumbai; the Himachal Pradesh State Library in Shimla; the Gandhi Development Trust in Phoenix Settlement, South Africa; the British Library in London; the Cambridge University Library and the Cambridge Centre for South Asian Studies; the Literary and Philosophical Society Library in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England; the Augusta University Reese Library; Guilford College Library in Greensboro, N.C.; Coe College Library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and the Parks Library at Iowa State University. I also appreciate all the bookstores where I purchased Gandhi books—in Bengaluru (Blossom must be noted as being the singular best bookshop to find Gandhi literature), New Delhi, Chennai, Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban, Cambridge, London, Oxford, St. Andrews, Berlin, Madrid, Vienna, Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco Washington, ←3 | 4→D.C., Montreal, and Toronto. I also want to thank Dr. Chandrika Kaul at the University of St. Andrews for hosting a Gandhi-and-the-media conference at her wonderful university in October 2019 on the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth. Many of the ideas for this book germinated at that conference. I also want to thank Eric P. Ries, Sue Morehouse, and Farwa Imam Ali for their help in editing the manuscript.

Book’s Breakdown

The chapters that follow look at various aspects of Gandhi’s career as an advocacy journalist, and then in a final section the authors examine Gandhi’s mediated image over time. We have attempted to tell the story of Gandhi and journalism in a way that gives both the achievements and moments when Gandhi’s words missed the mark, such as his ill-timed words about Jews just as the Nazi slaughter of Kristallnacht took place in November 1938—or later when he praised Adolph Hitler. As he himself claimed, he was not a saint; rather, Gandhi was a lawyer, journalist, politician, ascetic, nurse, and educator. His ideals were almost always controversial, but what is central to this book is his understanding that journalism served his various causes, whether vegetarianism, Hindu-Muslim unity, or Indian independence. What we do show about Gandhi’s media world comes from the documents themselves, especially his various newspapers, starting with Indian Opinion in Durban, South Africa. This approach requires a devotion to archives, and while it seems almost all of Gandhi’s words ever written are available, the originals are not always easy to find. As co-author Satrajit Ghosh Chowdury comments:

It is really hard when you are writing a retrospective analysis of the events [of Gandhi’s life] and trying to draw conclusions. I think that is where people make a mistake: drawing a conclusion, or maybe glorifying individuals beyond a point of mortal criticism. The Indian scholar Harmony Siganporia said exactly the same thing that Tagore reiterated while he was alive—treat humans as humans. With all their flaws and shortcomings, you will find more ways to accept that individual than to reject him. Idealism has its fault; for one it is not always realistic. But it is a guiding light that constrains humanity from chaos. It may have its faults, but the good that it does is so much more important than the problems it creates. What India did with Gandhi over time—putting him in a position of divinity—has resulted in looking at Gandhi as a symbol rather than a signifier or the signified. The divine symbol of Gandhi lacks flaws and, hence, this ideal creature is just to look at, rather than use him to signify your daily life.


XII, 276
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (August)
Gandhi journalism press India South Africa Indian Opinion Young India Satygraha advocacy icon mediated image censorship independence Gandhi, Advocacy Journalism, and the Media David W. Bulla
New York, Berlin, Bruxelles, Lausanne, Oxford, 2022. XII, 276 pp., 16 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

David W. Bulla (Volume editor)

David W. Bulla is a professor of communication at Augusta University. Bulla focuses his research on the history of journalism, examining limitations on press performance. His first book, Lincoln’s Censor, was published in 2008. Bulla and Gregory A. Borchard had their book Journalism in the Civil War Era published by Peter Lang in 2010. Bulla and David S. Sachsman are co-authors of Sensationalism: Murder, Mayhem, Mudslinging, Scandals, and Disasters in 19th Century Reporting published in 2013. In 2015, Lincoln Mediated: The President and the Press through Nineteenth Century Media was published, co-authored once again with Professor Borchard. Bulla also is assistant editor of The Southeastern Review of Journalism History. Bulla earned a Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of Florida.


Title: Gandhi, Advocacy Journalism, and the Media
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